9 Into Action

Later in the night, while James sat practicing on his violin, Sebastian answered emails, until his phone rang and Larry gave him the news. They had discovered and pinpointed the precise location of the communications post and had determined that it was definitely a fairly soft target. Sebastian made some notes and Larry quickly emailed him his full report while James ran upstairs to fetch Lt. Spencer, since he’d help James guide the little training operation.

Lt. Spencer returned with James and stood awkwardly at attention in a pair of pajama pants and a light t-shirt. Sebastian rolled his eyes and the man relaxed. “What’s up?” he asked.

“That’s better,” Sebastian said with a smile. “I have a little mission for you and James. Tomorrow afternoon, I want you two to lead a small contingent to take over an enemy communications hub intact. We need the intel and access to their communications channels….”

“Sounds simple enough,” Lt. Spencer said, until he noticed the look on James’s face.

“It’s sort of a training mission to let some key … personnel get their feet wet,” James added, piquing the young man’s curiosity.

“There will be two teenage boys, mortals, in your contingent…. Neither of them has ever seen actual wizarding combat.” Lt. Spencer frowned and Sebastian raised his hand. “Are you familiar with the name Alexander Jennings?”

“Of course, sir … um, Sebastian,” Spencer responded.

“Jennings and his wife were killed by Sammael’s people months ago. One of the boys is his son, and he’s been training with Sam Roth and Avery.” Sebastian added.

“I see,” the lieutenant said with raised eyebrows. “And the other boy?”

“That is … more complicated,” Sebastian began, with a look at James. James nodded—he trusted the young man. “William’s boyfriend, Chase Abernathy, is the other boy…. He’s blind.”

“What?” Spencer gasped with a disbelieving laugh. “You can’t seriously intend to send a blind boy into a combat zone!”

“This is where it gets complicated,” Sebastian said with a sigh. “Chase is perhaps the single most powerful human being I’ve ever met—and I do include wizards in the category of human.” Spencer’s face contorted in disbelief. Coming from a four-millennia-old vampire and the best friend of Avery Salazar, that meant something.

James added, “He’s not exaggerating….”

Lt. Spencer nodded and accepted the orders, and the three began going over the schematic of the little facility, planning their course of attack. “William will protect Chase while he suppresses the electronics in the facility, so they can’t get word out about the attack. The rest of you will secure the facility so that our tech staff can come in and study it….”

“He can really do that … Chase, I mean?” Spencer asked.

“So much more,” Sebastian responded, his voice steady and calm. “I cannot conceive of the limits of his power are!” Spencer was utterly freaked out, and utterly fascinated, by that thought. Soon, Sebastian dismissed him to get his rest, before retiring with James to their suite.

***

Sunday, early afternoon, Chase and William left in search of the perfect suits to wear to host their Valentine’s Ball. To that end they drove out Huguenot Road to Beercroft and Bull, where they were met at the door by a finely dressed salesman who, at first, gave the boys a skeptical look. But William walked in like he owned the place.

“We’d like help picking a suit,” William said.

“We have many fine … and expensive choices, boys,” the man said, unsure.

“Well then perhaps I should explain the occasion. On the weekend after Valentine’s Day, I have reserved a ballroom at the Jefferson for a dance….”

“Ah, I see,” the man smiled, his tone changing. “And you gentlemen are the co-hosts?”

“Yes,” William nodded, “and whatever we wear needs to match….”

“Well, perhaps a tuxedo, since you’re hosting?” the man asked.

“Too formal,” Chase said. “What about a suit with a vest?”

“We have some very nice,” the man began, but William cut him off.

“Let’s do something custom. Do you think your tailor could accommodate a rush order?” William asked.

“I think that could be arranged. Let me just get him for you,” the man said and went to get the old gentleman.

“You aren’t being very nice,” Chase chided gently.

“And neither was he until he knew we had money. I don’t like that,” William said.

The salesman returned with the tailor and William described what he was thinking of with a few pointers from Chase. Then the man took measurements and asked them when they wanted their suits.

“By the week of Valentine’s Day,” William answered.

“Hmmm,” the old man thought, “I can do it, but it will require overtime…. I couldn’t do it in that time for less than $7,000!”

Chase gasped, but William arched his eyebrows and asked, “Each?”

The man laughed. “You’re funny! I like you!”

William made a down payment and left his contact information for the final fitting.

Outside, Chase laughed, “We’d better look good for that price!”

“You always look good, babe,” William smiled, squeezing his hand, “but I love how you look in a suit!” Chase laughed and blushed as they got in the car and headed home.

***

The stench of sulfur was overwhelming. Even demons avoided this place. That’s how Pursan maintained his privacy. The “Pit” burned hotter, seethed with more vile filth, than any other place in hell. One had to go through the “Pit” to get to the chains that had once held Sammael prisoner in his own domain. And to do that, one had to pass through the ancient library of Hell, its archive. Even then, one was unlikely to meet its archivist, for the simple reason that he rarely wished to be met.

At the moment, however, that was his wish, so when Daemon secretly entered his realm, Pursan was found pondering an ancient book that smoldered but wouldn’t burn. Without facing the intruder, he said, “I knew someone would come, but I didn’t expect you!” Pursan turned and  yellow light burned bright in the eye sockets of his ravaged skull, though a smile stretched what skin still hung from his face.

“Why have I come, if you know so much?” Daemon challenged, defensiveness showing on a face whose beauty was scarcely affected.

“My little fiend, the more interesting question is, why am I not going to lock you in that little room that held Sammael for two millennia?” Fear flickered in Daemon’s eyes, and Pursan shook his head. “The answer to that question … is complicated…. Sit!”

And Daemon did, talking for hours to the most solitary of Hell’s denizens and finding himself most intrigued.

***

The following afternoon, Sebastian sent the message he’d been delaying—his request that William and Chase come to the manor at their earliest convenience. Within a few moments, the message was acknowledged by William, with the assurance that they would arrive soon.

Meanwhile, Sebastian coordinated with Americ and Christen to stage a full assault on the ship holding Musa. Larry had provided him overnight with a full threat assessment based on thermal satellite imaging. They would hit the ship just after the boys took the communications center. Sam’s team would not be backing Chase and William up after all but would join the all-out assault on the ship. At least one of Sammael’s most powerful allies was on board. After all, capturing and holding a vampire like Musa was no small task.

William and Chase stepped into the basement through their portal and walked into Sebastian’s office. “Thanks for coming, guys,” Sebastian said with a smile. Then he explained the mission he was sending them on and introduced them to Lt. Spencer, who shook hands with each of them and smiled. Spencer could not help but be impressed with the boys, especially Chase and his almost radiant calm and always sincere smile.

James showed William and Chase where they could change into uniforms Sebastian had ordered for them then they all returned to the basement ready to go. Besides James and Lt. Spencer, eight wizards would be accompanying William and Chase on the little raid. When the group stepped out of Sebastian’s basement, they found themselves in deep woods. Lt. Spencer directed the men silently and they moved to the edge of a clearing. In the middle of a large clearing in the forest, a small blocky building with huge antennas and satellite dishes arrayed around it sat dark.

William helped Chase settle to the ground and casted a circle around them, while Chase began the spell that would block the building’s electronics, disrupting communications and disabling the electrical and security systems. It took about five minutes, but all of the battle wizards felt the powerful wave of magickal energy sweep out of the forest and settle over the building like a haze. Most of them stared at the angelic looking blond with a mixture of surprise and awe.

Spencer made a few hand gestures and the troops moved in. Normally, they would have tripped an alarm and floodlights would have lit the clearing like daylight. This evening, no one saw them coming, so when James blew the front door and another wizard the side door, no one had any idea what was transpiring.

Shortly James crossed the clearing to William and Chase. “It’s all clear inside. Only a few techies and a couple of guards were awake, so we caught most of the fighters in bed!”

“Great,” William said. “No one was hurt?”

“No,” James answered with a smile.

Chase immediately dropped his spell and the lights came on. The tech guys quickly turned off the alarm and gave an all-clear signal to save their own skins. With a serious face, Chase said, “Take me inside….”

James looked at William, who shrugged and helped the boy up. As they walked toward the building, Chase began walking faster and faster. As they burst through the door, Chase asked excitedly, “You haven’t notified Sebastian?”

“I … just got off the phone,” Spencer said, confused. “They’re getting ready to go now!”

Chase winced and asked, “Are the tech guys still in this room?”

“Yes,” James said.

“Have you received any strange orders in the last few days? Things that violate security?” Chase asked.

The shorter of the men tensed up, and James dragged him to standing. “Spit it out!”

The little man shook his head and James looked into his eyes, penetrating his consciousness. “Answer his question,” he said in a low, sensual voice—a voice that might have been used to say, take off your clothes, except for the unconcealed threat in it.

“We were ordered to broadcast communications from our research vessel on all channels,” the man answered, sounding dazed and faraway.

“Why would you do that?” James asked, maintaining his hypnotic gaze.

“We weren’t sure which one of our channels you had access to,” the man said.

James looked at William with panic in his eyes. A trap. Sebastian and the others were rushing into a trap, goaded by emotion. It was too dangerous to keep Musa prisoner, unless there was an ulterior motive. He was bait.

Chase’s face bore a grim look and said, “We’ve got to help them….”

“What can we do?” Lt. Spencer asked. “We don’t know where the ship is to get there. And … what could we add?”

But James narrowed his eyes and growled at the little techie, “Get us an exact location on that SHIP!” The man sat down and immediately did just that.

***

Sebastian and Christen boarded the ship from opposite ends, each leading a force of seasoned wizards. They quickly neutralized the few guards on the deck, and closed on each other to join up.

“I expected more guards,” Christen said quietly.

“Me too,” Sebastian whispered. “Probably inside!” Slowly, they made their way into the interior of the ship and crept toward what they thought was a guard barracks. Quietly, they opened the door and found relatively few sleeping men inside.

Christen raised her hand to place a sleep charm on them, but Sebastian gave her a cold look, raised his hand, and whispered in a very creepy voice, “Vayyamutu ha-anashim haresha’im” (and the wicked men died). The spell was very dark and very powerful, but of limited use: few were cold-blooded enough to use a spell to kill sleeping men. For the first time in many years, the look in Sebastian’s eyes frightened the witch consul.

Moving from room to room, they took down any straggler or wandering guard with extreme prejudice, until they came to the cargo hold. Inside, a large number of defenders of various strengths waited.

Sebastian began a silent count as they prepared to storm in and rescue their friends. Suddenly, a black viscous fog slipped beneath the door and began to curl around them like so many constrictor snakes. “I’ve been waiting,” a man announced from within with an angry laugh. The door opened and Sebastian, Avery, and Christen, with their entire force, were transported inside, not under their own power. “It’s time we all had a talk,” Sammael announced with a smile.

Sekhmet was torturing Musa slowly as if she were all alone in the world, drawing images on his soft brown skin, while transfusing him with the blood that would continually heal him. Aethon walked up to the bound group and put his clawed hand on Sebastian’s cheek. “This is your boy?” Aethon asked Resheph with raised eyebrows. “He is beautiful!”

Resheph’s smile at Sebastian was colder than a dead planet at the edge of the universe. “He was a pleasant diversion for few centuries, master!”

Aethon smiled at him paternally and proudly, but scolded, “Remember your manners in the presence of our master!”

Sammael sat in the center of the room in a leather armchair, a modern throne, Peter standing to his right like a queen, grasping Sammael’s hand firmly. “After such a promising resistance, it’s almost anticlimactic, isn’t it?” Sammael asked with pleasure.

Sebastian’s eyes narrowed in anger. Peter looked into the crowd, seeing nothing but suffering, nothing but pain, and all of it because these people would stand against the peace of oblivion. Peter made the mistake of meeting Sebastian’s gaze, expecting anger, venom, disgust, all the things he felt about himself. He was ready for that. What he saw pierced his heart almost as thoroughly as the stake he might have welcomed. Sebastian’s eyes softened in a mixture of regret and disappointment, and Peter looked at his feet in shame. Sebastian’s eyes were caring, and that shook Peter most of all. Even in that short period, Sebastian came to understand Peter better than the boy understood himself.

***

“We know where the ship is,” Spencer objected, “but opening a portal to a moving target isn’t an easy task…. I certainly can’t do it!”

All of the older wizards agreed. James knew, as well, his skills, however supercharged, were not that finely honed. “I’ll do it,” Chase said at last.

“Look kid,” Spencer said, “I know you’ve got powerful mojo, but….”

Chase whispered in William’s ear, not listening to the man, and William said, with a long and concerned look at his love, “He can get us there!” Chase had told him that Raziel had taught him how to open a path without using a portal.

“I need a dagger,” Chase said, and three wizards reached into their kits for the ceremonial knives. They were all curious to see what the strange, beautiful blond would do.

Chase took the first dagger handle he felt and raised the blade to his lips, but then asked its owner, “This knife has no … sentimental value?”

“No, it was just very expensive,” the man answered.

Chase smiled and said, “Put in a claim, then!” He kissed the blade and whispered an incantation, so that the blade began to glow incandescent blue. Concentrating on the exact location he wished to enter, he slashed a wide gash in the air in front of him and yelled, “GO!” A ‘tear’ opened in space, its edges glowing like the knife, and the men charged through, William and Chase hot on their heels. Chase closed the tear behind them and stopped. Everything was silent.

William could see what he could not: Sebastian and his comrades held in a dark spell on one side of them, Sammael and Peter on the other, and some very dangerous, ancient vampires close at hand. Everyone stood still, shocked by the way the new wizards had entered.

“What is this magick?” Sammael at last asked with a roar, and William slipped between the ancient evil and Chase.

“Let our people go, and we’ll withdraw,” William answered with resolve, despite the tremor in his gut.

“And are you James?” Sammael asked, his eyes narrowing as his smile spread.

“No, my name is William Jennings!” the boy yelled.

Suddenly, Sammael’s smile faded and his expression faltered. And William saw it: uncertainty. As quietly as he could, William asked Chase to break the spell that held their allies, and the boy squeezed his hand, closing his eyes and reaching out mentally to the ties of power holding them. “You’ve caused me a lot of trouble boy! But never mind…. Tonight you all die!” At that moment, Sebastian and the Council’s troops scattered in all directions and charged. Snarling, Sammael sent all his forces into the fray before targeting people with spells. In the mess, he was mostly “shooting blind,” hitting as many of his own men as Sebastian’s probably.

William was shielding both he and Chase as best he could and yelled for Chase to keep low. And Chase did. But William couldn’t keep track of what Chase was doing and defend them, so he didn’t see the boy sit cross-legged on the floor and begin waving his hands, collecting power in each of his palms. Then in one powerful motion, he pushed his right hand toward the floor and his left hand toward the wall across from him. In the next instant, Sebastian’s team fell to the floor, while Sammael’s were knocked away. Chase had separated the masses of troops and had moved powerful, ancient vampires with a simple kinetic spell.

Sammael raised his hand and gathered a black cloud of evil energy to destroy the whole group before him, but Chase stood resolutely and stepped forward, giving the demon pause. “What are you?” Sammael asked, eyes narrowed like a snake’s.

Chase smiled though he was afraid. “Just a teenage boy! But I wonder…. A friend of mine told me that when things like you … make bodies for themselves, it can obscure their sight!” His compatriots began to stir and at least a few were working on opening the portal back to base.

The swirling mass of evil energy between Sammael’s hands swirled, its flashes of dark lightning intensifying. “I don’t have time for this,” Sammael, snarled.

But Chase laughed and goaded him. “Take a peek behind the veil! What are you afraid of?”

Sebastian winced as he saw the look on the demon’s face and prepared to jump into action. But then he saw Sammael’s face become distant for a moment. When Sammael’s consciousness returned, his face contorted in a swirling torrent of rage and fear, just before he released the energy in a flash at Chase.

No one could reach him in time, but Sebastian’s shout gave him the warning he needed. Chase raised his hand and yelled, “Verso!” If James had tried such a thing it might have slowed the spell; perhaps Avery could have slowed it enough to dodge it; but before Chase the huge mass of congealed black magick slowed to a halt and began to move back towards its maker.

Sammael’s fury turned to shock as he had to raise his own hand to stop the energy from moving toward him further. Between them it was held in suspension. For a moment everyone was breathless, but then a portal was open and Sebastian’s forces began a retreat. As Chase too backed toward the portal, he was able to keep the black mass equidistant between himself and Sammael. He was the last to back through the portal, and just a moment too late, Sammael realized what was about to happen. Chase was going to close the portal, and when he was gone, the energy would be released. But without Chase and Sebastian’s little army, it would merely rip a hole in the ship.

Chase smiled quickly and waved his hand, closing the portal, and in the vast expanse of the sea, no one was present to see the enormous explosion that rocked the former merchant vessel and sent it to the bottom of the great deep.

There was a long tense silence as they all pondered how close they’d come to death. But they had gotten away with the captives. And Sammael had destroyed his ship at sea with his key players on board. It was too much to hope they had died.

Lt. Spencer cocked his head with a devious smile and, ruffling Chase’s hair, asked, “Who knew such a little guy could be such a badass?”

They all laughed and William and Chase spent a while hanging out with the older wizards and consuls, except for Avery, who slipped away to be alone, and Sebastian, who updated the whole Council on the evenings business. Between the video of him quartering Sammael’s underling and the setback the demon had just suffered, Sebastian doubted people would be flocking to join him. Sammael would change tactics, and to keep their advantage, they’d have to figure out his next move. Perhaps that could wait, he thought, heading upstairs and putting arms across Chase’s and William’s shoulders, joining in the camaraderie.

***

The hour was late and the soldiers had returned to their places. Chase and William found themselves at last alone with James and Sebastian, after Steve and Chris got the hint and took Lt. Spencer upstairs for a rousing game of something on the Wii.

Sebastian leaned into James comfortably as they sat across from the boys and said, “Chase, you’re really coming along with your power…. I must say I never expected….”

Chase blushed a little and smiled. “Raziel’s been teaching me … at night.” William’s face changed imperceptibly; he’d wondered when, but didn’t feel he should ask.

“I must say we’re all quite grateful, but you put yourself in terrible risk,” Sebastian said, gently scolding.

“We had no choice,” Chase said softly, and he clearly believed that. After a moment of silence, Chase said, “You know, it’s just all too much!” William reached out and grabbed his hand, and for a while Chase was quiet while the others chatted.

But at last Chase piped back in: “Did you know that the school decided not to let us go to the Valentine’s Dance? Me and William, or Edward and Carl?”

Sebastian’s eyes flashed fire as James asked, “What?”

William nodded with a sigh, and Chase continued, “So William’s rented a ballroom at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond and we’re going to have our own! A lot of people are coming to ours instead of the school’s! Oh, you guys have to come!”

Sebastian smiled, indicating he’d do anything to please the boy, but said, “We’re very busy with the war and all, and that’s very public.”

William smirked, “All the more reason to be there! Who better to defend us? And you’ll blend right in…. In fact, if you could arrange some of the older wizard types to come as chaperones/guards, we wouldn’t have to have parents all over the place!”

James chuckled at Sebastian, knowing the discussion was over. “All right,” the ancient vampire said with a brilliant smile. “Of course for you….”

“Oh, we should invite Steve and Chris: I guess they aren’t getting to go to dances either?” Chase asked, bubbling over and getting back into his role as the dance’s ‘hostess,’ as he’d giggling described himself. James took him up to where the boys were playing so he could invite them.

When they were gone, Sebastian rose and sat next to William and put an arm across his shoulder. For once, William relaxed with him and just enjoyed the feeling. Sebastian had done all he could to prove himself to William, and it was enough.

Quietly, William asked, “What is he?”

“Who?” Sebastian responded.

“Chase?” William asked.

Sebastian sat silently for a moment. “I … do not know,” he answered honestly, at long last.

“More than you thought, though?” William stated more than asked.

“Yes,” Sebastian said. “I think so….”

“There is no way to keep him safe now, is there?” William asked, his voice cracking.

Sebastian projected to James, ‘You guys hang out upstairs a little. We need a moment….’ And then he said, “No. Sammael was wary of me, but he’s … can it even be said? He’s afraid of Chase. And beings like him, I’m sure it’s not something they deal with very well.”

William’s eyes teared up as he nodded. “I’ll die before I let anything happen to him….”

“I know,” Sebastian said, squeezing him in a big hug. “I hope it won’t come to that for either of us,” he added, hoping William understood. After a few comfortable moments, he said, “Now let’s go find that boy of yours so you can get home!”

After joining in the conversation upstairs for a few more minutes, William and Chase made their way home, exhausted, excited, a little scared, but, most of all, bone tired. They’d called Steve and Sarah earlier to let them know they were alright, but they stuck their head in to say goodnight before heading upstairs.

Sarah, who was sitting up in bed reading, held out her arms, summoning the boys for a goodnight hug, and whispered to them, “Thank God you’re safe.” They both told her they loved her and went upstairs and straight to bed.

***

Over the next week, the boys enjoyed a relatively normal week at school, which is not to say it was entirely pleasant. On Monday, the chatter amongst their group of friends was largely about tuxes and dresses and the like, since the dance was now just under two weeks away. They were all sitting around the table at lunch when two normally perky looking girls, juniors, marched over, clutching their books tightly, knuckles white.

“Well, I suppose you’re happy now?” asked the more fearsome of the two, a blond with carefully styled hair whose father was a Presbyterian minister.

Everyone fell silent and William looked up at her with blank disregard. “I’m afraid I don’t follow….”

“Well, you’ve just ruined our dance, and all so that you and your … whatever can flaunt your … lifestyle!” the girl concluded with an angry huff.

“Ruined your dance?” William asked with interest and a hateful smile. Amy appeared to be the only one to notice Chase on the verge of tears.

The girl’s mousy sidekick piped in, “We aren’t selling any more tickets, and a lot of people who bought them aren’t coming!” She fell silent at her mistress’s sharp look.

“Well, it sounds to me that you guys will get to have a good time with likeminded Neanderthals! So why don’t you march yourself right back over to self-righteousville and leave us alone?” William answered, his anger rising.

“I just don’t see why you can’t act like everybody else? Why can’t you just let us be and … stop trying to … pretend like your normal?” the girl fumed. “Don’t the rest of us have rights?”

William looked as angry as anyone had ever seen, and then he heard Chase’s sniffling and saw the boy’s tears. No one knew what was about to happen but it wasn’t good. Then out of nowhere, Amy, Matt’s girlfriend, who had been sitting just in front of the girls, rose to her feet, turned, and smacked the girl right in the face.   

For a second, their whole part of the cafeteria fell deathly silent and the girl raised her hand to her cheek in shock. Her look said something like, “What?” and “Traitor!” combined. “Why is it when these guys, nice guys, want to do what everyone else is doing openly every day, its rubbing it in your faces? Why is it that what you do is your right, but what they do is only interfering with your rights? Don’t they have any?” Amy was mad and it showed.

“There is no right to be disgusting, immoral! Humans weren’t meant to….” But the girl was silenced by the loud crack of Amy’s hand again striking her cheek. By luck, they had not yet been observed by anyone in authority, blocked as they were by the gathering crowd, but the sounds of laughter and a little clapping finally drew the attention of an assistant principal.

“What’s going on here? Everybody return to your seats!” The man was raising his voice and students dispersed. “You too ladies,” he shouted at the two girls who were still frozen by the shock of what had happened, and they scurried off full of pride and indignation.

Amy sat down, her face red, and very lady-like, straightened her hair and noticed everyone staring at her with varying degrees of repressed laughter. Smoothing out her skirt, she raised her eyebrows. “What? She made him cry!” At that, everyone, Chase included, laughed.

Matt leaned over and whispered in her ear, “That was maybe the hottest thing I’ve ever seen,” making her giggle.

***

That evening, Chase sat with Sam talking while James and William trained alone in William’s space, Sebastian substituting for Avery. Then the boys joined Chase’s parents for dinner, before heading upstairs to work on homework. It was getting late and they were just thinking about turning in for the night when they heard a tap against the window.

Matt had tossed a pebble at the window to get their attention, and William ran downstairs to let him inside. “Come on up,” he whispered, trying not to disturb Chase’s parents.

“What’s up?” he asked as he closed the door behind him.

“I don’t have to be home for a little while yet so I thought I’d stop in,” the boy gushed, clearly walking on air.

“You sound excited,” Chase said with a grin.

“Well, I spent the … evening at Amy’s,” Matt answered slyly, like there was something he couldn’t wait to tell but was dragging it out. “We … uh, you know, did stuff … for the first time….”

“Huh?” Chase asked.

William shook his head and laughed, “They you knowed for the first time….”

“OHHHHH!” Then after a moment of thought Chase said, off-handed, “I just figured you’d been you-knowing for a while….”

Matt blushed. “No….”

William looked at him seriously, “You were careful, right?”

“Yes, mom! Besides, Amy’s on the pill,” Matt blushed.

“Doesn’t matter,” William said. “You don’t want to be the one in a thousand, do you?”

Matt looked nervous. “No,” he said. “Anyway, strictly speaking, we didn’t fully ….” He blushed and said. “She, uhm, took care of me?”

Chase looked confused but said, “I like Amy….”

“Just because she beat up the mean girl?” Matt teased.

“She didn’t beat her up, much,” Chase laughed, faux pouting.

After a few minutes more, William walked Matt out and locked up behind him. After a moment’s thought, he smiled to himself and ran up stairs to suggest a little ‘you know.’

***

Word had gotten around about the girls’ confrontation with William and Chase, doing little to bolster sympathy for the moral majority. More and more people were getting on board with William’s dance, especially when he announced chaperones would be provided by a private security firm (AKA Sebastian’s wizard squad) overseen by Chase’s parents. Chase was as happy as could be by the end of the week, when he and William arrived home to find a young woman waiting on the sidewalk in front of the house.

William and Matt stepped in front of Chase, and without a second thought, Matt’s hand went to the protective amulet Chase had given him. Shortly, a couple of men appeared nearby and flanked the woman before the boys moved.

“Private security, ma’am,” the taller of the men said simply. “What’s your business here?”

The woman looked flustered and reached into her purse, prompting the other man to say “Wait a minute! Slow and easy!”

Shocked, she pulled out a press ID from the local paper. “I … was just here to see if I could ask these guys some questions,” she said, a little shaky. “What’s with the security?”

“Long story,” William said grimly, seeing the woman’s eyes light up. “And we’re not talking!”

“I just figured you might want to get your story out,” she said. “Alice Hunt,” she announced.

William shook it warily. “William Jennings.”

Chase stood there for a moment before she realized. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t notice,” she said and reached gently for his hand.

“Chase Abernathy,” he said with a smile, after their hands touched. “And this is my best friend, Matt….”

Matt nodded but didn’t say anything to her. “Don’t say anything to her until your mom gets home,” Matt said finally, glaring at her before he walked up to his house and went inside.

“What do you want to talk to us about?” Chase said with a smile, surprising both the woman and William. The guards never moved away from her.

“Chase?” William warned urgently.

Chase just said, “She’s alright … for a reporter!”

Alice looked at him funny, but then said, “I’m here to ask you about your dance, the dance you’re hosting at the Jefferson….”

“Oh,” William said, his relief telling her there was another story. She’d stick with this one for now.

“So why did you decide to have an alternate dance? It’s very expensive,” she said. “Do you mind if I record?”

“No, I don’t mind,” William said. “Chase and I wanted to go to the dance together,” and he paused, taking Chase’s hand for emphasis, “but the principal decided that gay couples wouldn’t be allowed to attend together. We decided to do something with our friends and anyone from school who wanted to join us, without prejudice and free of charge.”

“Wow,” she said, smiling, “you boys have some kind of guts!” Then after a pause, “How long have you boys been together?”

Knowing she wouldn’t take them seriously if they told her exactly, William said, “A while now…. We love each other very much. We just want to be treated like everyone else, no better, no worse!”

“Why do you think your principal decided not to allow you to attend? It’s a private school and most of the parents at your school are from more liberal families,” Alice said, reading from her notebook.

“That’s a real good question! To be honest, it didn’t make a lot of sense, but she told us all in front of our parents,” Chase piped in.

“All? There were others,” Alice asked.

Chase blushed and said, “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m not sure the other couple would appreciate being named, but I can ask them…. Maybe they’d talk to you too? Maybe their parents….”

She handed William her card. “If they want to talk, have them call me as soon as they can….”

After a few more questions, she was ready to go. But Chase stopped her. “Why don’t you come to the dance? Get some pictures, talk to some students?”

She stopped and smiled at him. Not only was he adorable, but very polite. “I just might. I’ll let you know….” She turned to go, but stopped. “I got to ask … what’s with the goon squad?”

The wizards raised their eyebrows but suppressed smiles. “Goon squads, you mean,” William smiled, nodded secretly in the direction of a few other visible guards, making the woman’s eyes widen again. “You’ve got my name…. Look it up!”

The woman walked away closely watched by the guards, occupied by a head full of thoughts. “Well, this could be interesting,” Chase said with a sweet smile. William shook his head with a smile and took the boy’s hand, leading him inside.

Chase stayed upstairs reading on his computer’s Braille readout, while William met James and Sebastian for the last training session of the week. By common consent, they were taking the weekend off. Chase was just finishing up when William returned and flopped down on the bed. “I’m tired,” he declared.

Chase sat on the bed next to him and put a hand on his stomach. “What do you want to do this weekend?”

William smiled and put his hand on Chase’s. “Let me think about it while I grab a shower?” He grabbed his robe and made his way to the bathroom, returning shortly smelling fresh and clean. He pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweater and suggested, “Want to go to a movie?”

“Sounds good,” Chase said and changed out of his uniform into more comfortable clothes, while William watched appreciatively. He sidled up behind the boy and ran a hand up the front of his shirt, tickling his smooth tummy. “Later!” Chase laughed and turned in his arms, giving him a tight squeeze.

They went downstairs and asked Steve to give them a ride to the mall. Thirty minutes later they were walking around, hand-in-hand, talking, waiting for a seat to open up at the Macaroni Grille so they could eat before their movie. They watched a comedy from the back row of the theater, where they sat cuddled up with each other. During his walk through, the usher gave them a long look but didn’t say anything before he left.

Afterwards, they called Steve and got ice-cream cones while they waited. As they sat on the bench, some guys from school passed and said hello. William talked to them a minute before they went on their way. “It’s strange,” Chase said.

“What do you mean?” William asked.

“So normal…. I keep waiting for something to happen!” Chase laughed and leaned into William, who wrapped an arm around him.

“Me too!”

“Are you going to synagogue in the morning?” Chase asked.

“Will you come with me?” William responded.

“Of course, if you want,” Chase answered, snuggling in tight, just before Steve pulled up and honked at them to hop in.

The next morning, the boys set off for synagogue, opting to take a long walk (with a few wizards hot on their trail) in the brisk mid-winter air. Bundled in their good clothes, they walked hand-in-hand down to the old house of worship and said their good mornings. After they joined the congregation for lunch, they called Steve for a ride home. Then they went to visit Xavier for the afternoon and joined him for dinner. He was lonely in the big house with Aiden away for the weekend, so they agreed to spend the night, after calling Sarah and Steve.

As they lay in the big, luxurious guest bed in one another’s arms that night, Chase smiled at William and sighed.

“What?” William asked.

“It’s been so nice and normal this week,” Chase said happily.

“Well, the part where your best friend’s girlfriend puts a smack down on your enemies and you get interviewed by the paper isn’t exactly normal for most people,” William chuckled.

“It is when you’re us,” Chase answered, rolling over onto his belly and resting his chin on William’s chest. “I like it like this….”

“I can tell,” William said, flexing his thigh against Chase. “Let’s try to be quiet,” he added with a wink.

Xavier turned up the music in his room, shaking his head with a little laugh. “Young love,” the young man whispered as he rolled over and hugged Aiden’s pillow, drifting off to sleep.

***

The next morning, the boys put their worn clothes back on and stumbled downstairs, accepting coffee. Xavier gave them both a funny look and said, “I sure hope you boys talked to Sarah and Steve….”

William was about to ask, “What?” when the phone rang. Xavier picked up and flinched at the high pitched voice. He held the phone out from his ear and said, “Sarah!” That seemed to stop her, so he continued, “I’ve got them right here…. You want me to bring them home or come here?” After a few words from her, he said, “See you in ten, dear, and calm down! It’s okay!”

Chase looked scared, and after he hung up, Xavier laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it! It’s actually a good article. Probably get you boys expelled, but it’s pretty compelling,” he finished, tossing the paper to William, who read the article to Chase on their way home.

When they pulled into his driveway, Chase said, “I can’t believe they put it on the front page of the Sunday local section!”

“Yeah, everyone will see it,” Xavier said, repressing a little snicker. “Don’t worry boys….”

Inside, Sarah was in a tizzy. “You boys talked to a reporter without talking to me or your father first? Without an adult present?”

“Did she lie?” William asked, calm. “Did she say anything bad or demeaning about us?”

“No!” Sarah said, tossing the paper onto the counter. “She told your side of the story, pretty well favoring you boys! You realize how much trouble this is going to cause?”

“Probably not much more than us holding an alternate Valentines Dance and ruffling every holy roller feather in school,” William reported, and Xavier put his hand over his face to hide the laugh that was ready to burst out at any moment.

“You should have told us! And wipe that smirk off your face Xavier!” she said in a huff. Then with a sigh, “Have you boys had breakfast? Can you stay, Xavier?”

The boys ran upstairs to shower and change, and Xavier sat and talked to her while she made pancakes and bacon. While the boy’s were gone, he asked, “So what’s wrong, Sarah?”

“Oh, nothing! I’m just scared for them…. This will make things harder,” she said.

“Harder than the prince of darkness?” he asked with a wry smile.

“I guess that does put things in perspective,” she said, giving him a look. “I am proud of them,” she allowed. “They’re good boys! Good to each other!”

“And powerful…. Don’t forget, Chase may be your little boy, but he’s scary powerful Sarah!” Xavier looked quickly at the steps. “I shouldn’t say anything, but the boys were in the same room with Sammael on Sunday….”

“What?” she asked, in a panic.

“Chill,” Xavier said. “I’m only telling you this because it should make you feel better! Chase, protected by William and James, saved some of the most powerful vampires and wizards in the world. As I hear it, Sammael was a little weirded out by Chase….”

Sarah cooked silently for a moment. “He looks so … fragile! And he can’t see…. It’s hard to see him like the rest of you do…. I guess I have to try!”

“He’s your little boy,” Xavier smiled, “and that’s fine! But he and William can take care of each other,” the man said with certainty.

Xavier was still there with the boys when a heavy knocking at the door got their attention. Xavier carefully checked the peephole before opening the door and stepping aside to let Sebastian and James inside.

“What brings you to town?” Xavier asked in a somewhat distant voice before smiling and shaking hands with James. “Please come on in…. The boys are in the living room.”

“We’re just dropping in for a visit,” Sebastian said with a polite nod to his former friend. Xavier raised his eyes. This was unlike the Sebastian he remembered.

“Look who came for a visit,” Xavier announced as he lead them into the room.

“James! Sebastian!” William hopped up and shook hands with them, not surprised that Chase followed suit with hugs. “Just in our neighborhood?”

“Things have been quiet,” Sebastian said with a smile and a shrug. “I’ve worked out a security plan, so I thought we’d come down and do a walk through at the hotel…. Then maybe take you guys out to dinner?”

“Sounds fun,” Chase exclaimed. “Let’s go change!”

“Why?” William asked.

“We’re going to one of the most luxurious hotels in the state to make arrangements for an expensive event,” Chase said, matter-of-factly. William looked at Sebastian and James, saw they were dressed, if not dressy, expensive and preppy. Smiling, he ran upstairs with Chase and they returned shortly. The foursome looked very cute together. Chase told his mom where they were going and promised to call on the way home.